Saturday, June 30, 2007

Day 14

I'm an astanga rebel: today is a 'moon day' when most Ashtangis traditionally take a day off of practice and I practised anyway! It was really good, though fairly unremarkable. I seem to be settling into some sort of comfort zone with the practice now - it feels challenging but welcoming to me.

Marichyasana A and B are both completely comfortable. Marichyasana C not so much, but it's coming along.

Jump throughs are fairly consistent, using the blocks on their second highest level. At one point, they were on the lowest level and I was having trouble so I switched them back.

My back was NOT open today and Urdhva Danurasana was really, really difficult.

Sirsasana was its usual bliss. I really, really don't need that wall. From now on, I'm going to pretend the wall isn't there and not rely on it at all (unless I crash into it on my way down). I think my goal for Sirsasana this summer is to be completely free-standing by the time I return to H's class in the fall.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Day 13

Evening practice tonight, because I kept putting it off and doing (necessary) work on my computer. I actually wore my yoga clothes all day in anticipation!

By the time I was ready to practice, my computer was running a backup, so I couldn't use the DVD. For the first time since I started my primary series practice, I was 'on my own'. I was afraid that I would be sluggish and wouldn't build up tapas without the motivation of the DVD. I was surprised to find that I kept up a pretty good pace and sweated throughout the practice. I found that I focused on breath a LOT more on my own.

I didn't manage to get through the closing series in the hour-and-a-half I had allotted, but I did do some backbends (my back was VERY open), handstands and headstand.

I had a 'moment' in headstand. For a few minutes, I felt so stable and secure in the pose that it was literally as comfortable as standing in the middle of the room. I hit a real 'sweet spot' in the pose. I've been playing with coming up with straight legs - this puts a lot of tension on my neck and shoulders. I suspect I'm not yet strong enough in my core to handle this. Baby steps!

Savasana was, surprisingly, the hardest part - by this time my computer was finished, so I put BBB in the DVD player and let her walk me through Savasana.

Today is the day I would usually go to M's advanced Anusara class. Obviously, I didn't go. I may go next week - I'll think about it. For now, I feel really happy doing my primary series Sadhana. I think I will return to class this summer, but perhaps not right away.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Day 12

Another very warm practice. I'm getting used to sweating a lot as I practice. I sort of expect it now and even feel cheated if my body doesn't warm up as much as I would like. One thing I've noticed recently is that my hams are very, very tight - tighter than they used to be. I'm not sure why this is and they only seem tight in some postures - like seated forward bends.

Ever since my ill-fated handstand a few days ago (when I bumped my head on the wall), I seem to have come to a very strong place in my handstand practice. I kick up easily, I feel comfortable, confident and stable. Ditto with my headstands. I really don't need the wall anymore - it's a psychological crutch more than anything.

Cranky back today, but I still managed two backbends, again using the wall and blocks. I can come in really deep this way.

I've added two replacement postures: Eka Pada Raj Kapotanasana for Janu Sirsasana C and Hanumasana for Mirichyasana D. Hanumasana was on my New Year's resolution list, so I figured I'd better work on it.

Somewhat related to practice: I've definitely lost some weight. My camp pants are loose now (they were very tight just a couple of months ago) and my blue pants (which I use to determine if I'm at my 'ideal weight'; I don't own a scale) fit without a struggle. They're still a bit tight in the bum, but I'm getting there, slowly but surely!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Day 11

Today was so hot that I was soaked in sweat (from my walk) before I even started.

Arms felt better today and Sun Salutations were fabulous and floaty. I've been going very, very deep in Parsvottanasana - too bad I can't hold my hands in reverse Namaste for more than 2 seconds.

Janu Sirsasana C - I actually did this on the right side, with my leg propped up on a block. Who knew? I'm pretty sure it was a fluky moment.

Utthita Hasta Padangustasana: I'm feeling so comfortable in this pose now! I can totally balance and my leg is nearly straight. I ease the transition to the side by bending my leg as I open the hip, then re-extending the leg.

Bhuja Pindasana: I balanced really well in this one today, also in Bakasana.

Came into shoulderstand without doing Halasana first!

Also of note, in Urdhva Danurasana I worked with blocks against the wall to deepen the backbend. It was *incredible*!

Sirsasana is feeling better and better. I set up next to the wall, but I don't really 'need' the wall. If only I could convince my brain of that fact.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Day 10

Surya Namaskara B flowed like a river of prana today. I literally felt like a dancer as I moved from one posture to the next. That was the full extent of sukha (ease). Everything else felt like I was made of lead - in fact, I nearly quit halfway through today. I only stuck it out when I noticed that the primary series was nearly over.

As it was, I skipped some things and modified others. My low back was cranky, so I turned Paschimottanasama into an Supta Padagunsthasana with a strap and skipped Supta Upavista Konasana and Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasama entirely (though I did do shoulder stand).

I'm finding all kinds of clever uses for blocks, but I didn't use them for jump throughs today because I wasn't doing jump throughs. Too tired. And my arms hurt - I was feeling the jump throughs in my back, probably because my arms were tired. My arms are still achy (I was really feeling it while teaching a corporate class today).

By the way, Tolasana with blocks? Rocks my world! I feel like an Amazon Goddess when I do that pose.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Day 9

Hot practice today - I was sweating a lot. Half-way through the practice, I broke out in a weird rash (little red spots all over my arms and legs). It's gone now. I'm wondering if that was a heat rash?!

Ardha Baddha Padma Padottanasana was much easier today! I was able to bind easily on the left side and was able to stand up straighter as I was doing it. I got my hand to the floor. I was able to put my block down to a lower level on the right side. Marichyasana D was not happening for me at all (I think my binding that one day was a fluke). I didn't bind on either side, but Marichyasana A and B felt particularly good. I'm really digging Marichyasana B!

Handstand: for the first time in a long time, I choked in handstand and actually hit the back of my head on the wall in the process of falling out. Finally got up on a second try and was very well-balanced then, but it was getting up there that took some work. This is very strange, and left me unsettled.

Backbends: The first one was all “Uh oh!” and I almost gave up, but instead I tried again. Backbend #2 was all “Hey, not bad!” and #3 was “Open for business”. Try, try, try again.

I used the Swenson book as reference for a few poses. For Kurmasana, I used a strap to help me experience 'binding'.

I did a modification that wasn't in the book, but it sure helped (and the book inspired it): I brought my shins against the wall and held my knees in Urdhva Padmasana - first time I've been able to do this (I always feel like I'm going to collapse).

I also did some pretty good jumpthroughs using blocks. I’m getting the hang of it, but take the blocks away and I'm back to square one. Also, I got tired halfway in and sort of gave up on it. Baby steps...

Meditation: I spend ten minutes in meditation today. The first five were really hard - I was very distracted, then distracted some more. With 2.5 minutes left, I was ready to give up, but decided to try again for those last few minutes. As I moved passed my resistance, I thought suddenly of a difficult time I was going through a few years ago. I had fleeting thought of anger about someone, then remembered a kind gesture she made in the midst of a lot of ugliness. I could feel all these emotions bubbling up and I burst into tears. I cried for awhile and then meditation was over.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Day 8

I practiced in the afternoon today because I slept in a bit before going to volunteer at the soup kitchen. I was good and warm by the time I got around to it and my back felt a thousand times better (even though it was cramping up as I was pouring milk for cereal this morning).

I did everything in first series except Janu Sirsasana C (replaced it with Sphinx). I even a modified version of Kurmasana.

In Marichyasana D, I was able to bind on the left side! This is very big for me. It's something that felt impossible to me last week. The right side will be more difficult, but it no longer seems impossible. I dare say I may bind in Supta Kurmasana sooner rather than later!

I felt great after practice today - very strong and calm. I meditated for 10 minutes.

Bought two yoga books today - one by Judith Lasater, “Living Your Yoga” and David Swenson's “Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual”. I used to borrow a copy of the latter from a studio where I taught, but I don't teach there anymore (and the public library doesn't carry it). It's a tremendous resource and now that I'm doing the primary series every day, I think I will really benefit from it. I also put 'Yoga Mala' by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois on my library hold list. I had a look at this one while at the bookstore. It's not nearly as clear and well organised as Swenson's book, but it will give me some insight into the man who developed the practice.

Just an aside: while at the bookstore, I glanced at Bikram Chodhury's new book. It just about turned my stomach. He's such a massive egotist. This is a cautionary tale of yoga gone wrong. Very disturbing.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Day 7

Very cranky low back today. I didn't do any extra Surya Namaskara and I stopped the DVD halfway through to do a supine twist to sooth my back.

In Ardha Baddha Padma Padottanasana, I've been using a block as a prop and that's been working out really well. Today, for the first time, I felt like I was really doing that pose.

Replaced Janu Sirsasana C with Sphinx and a backbend over the balance ball. Did one Urdhva Danurasana then supine twist during the next two instances.

In Supta Padagunsthasana, my outer left hamstring cramped up when I brought my leg out to the side. My hamstrings were tighter than usual. I walk for an hour every day and I'm still figuring out how to time my practice in relation to my walks.

Shoulderstand felt difficult today. I'm still working out how much blanket I need for a prop or if I want to use a blanket at all. Using the blanket makes all the variations awkward.

Sirsasana was amazing today. I felt really good until I brought my legs half-way down, then my low back felt sensitive so I went into Balasana.

My full lotus was good today and yes, I did manage three breaths of Tolasana too!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Day 6

I didn't get around to doing my practice today until about 2 o'clock. I had no trouble focusing once I started, though. I doubled the sun salutations - once the DVD got to standing poses, I started over. It was definitely a workout and I felt really tired near the end of the second set. But I was able to keep going with Chaturanga Dandasana throughout the practice.

I did nearly everything today - even tried Mari D! I didn't do Janu Sirsasana C, though. My feet just don't do that. Instead of repeating Janu Sirsasana A, I simply came into a sphinx with vinyasa in between. I practised all three Urdhva Danurasana, did an easy, strong handstand and found Sirsasana very restful today. I managed to do a really great full lotus and Tolasana today - and held it for 7 counts!

I'm definitely feeling stronger every day I do this. Great Savasana. Also did 10 minutes of meditation.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Day 5

I took a day off yesterday because my menstrual symptoms were so intense. Apparently, a break was exactly what I needed because my arms and shoulders were not as sore and I felt stronger. In fact, I did Chaturanga Dandasana throughout the entire practice - or at least until Mari D. I stopped the practice there because I was tired and couldn't do the inversions because of my cycle.

I was thinking afterward that I could have done more Surya Namaskara A and Surya Namaskara B to get a better sweat going. Next time I practise, I may 'rewind the DVD' and do the sun salutation sequence again to challenge myself and warm my body.

I can feel (and see!) myself getting stronger from this practice. My arms are becoming more muscular and I feel like I'm becoming more lean, though it doesn't seem like I'm losing any weight. I think it may be that I'm just firming up muscularly. One big benefit I've noticed after only a week of doing this is that long hours of teaching are less exhausting. I've already started to build some stamina.

Found out the other day that H is taking the summer off. I'm still feeling disappointed. I was really enjoying her classes and learning a lot from them, but this also reinforces my decision to practice the Ashtanga every day. Interesting how things work out!

I enjoyed her class. One element of vinyasa-style Hatha that really resonates with me if the great variety from class to class. We did our usual vinyasa flow and a sequence of standing poses: Utthita Trikonasana .. Ardha Chandrasana .. Virabhadrasana II .. Parsvakonasana.

Also worked on Half Lotus Toe Balance (don't know the sanskrit name for it), Padangustasana, and we did a neat variation onUstrasana against the wall. I did Sirsasana even though my menstrual bleeding is about to start (figured it would be my last for a few days). Great class. I was getting used to the new space and really appreciating H's teaching. Perhaps I can revisit her class when she returns in September.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Day 4

Got up early this morning to practise, but ended up farting around on my computer for an hour. I decided to walk before yoga because it seemed to work so well last night.

5:30 - 6:30 Fart around
6:30 - 7:30 Walk
8:00 - 9:30 Yoga

I didn't do any meditation today. I wasn't feeling particularly meditative.

It was an okay practice, not great. I think I practice better in the evening, but it I wait until then, I sometimes don't get around to it.

My backbends were not as good - I didn't feel as open. I did a lot of substitution today: Sphinx, supported Urdva Dhanurasana, Vrksasana and a supine twist.

Tomorrow, no Ashtanga because I will be going to H's class in the morning.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Day 3

I wasn't even planning to do a full primary series practice today because I was so sore - it was tempting to wimp out. But in the end, I did. Somehow, it just seemed easier to just go ahead and do the whole thing.

I went for a walk around 5ish, then practised afterward. I'm so glad I did. It was an awesome practice. I modified all of the Chaturangas by dropping my knees first, but I did every single one! This worked well because it kept my body warm. My arms still hurt, but they were feeling better as I warmed up.

My backbends were awesome today! I've never felt so open before. I followed the DVD through Mari B, then did Sphinx for Mari C and backbends over a balance ball for Mari D. I'm really enjoying doing shoulderstand and sirsasana daily. I added in Eka Pada Raj Kapotanasna at one point during the practice.

I did a wonderful 10 minutes of meditation, complete with some chanting.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Day 2

The best laid plans...I didn't get up at 5 a.m. this morning because we had a fire alarm (false alarm) at 3:45 a.m. I finally managed to get back to sleep after an hour, but didn't wake up again until 6:30.

I was SO SORE!!! I did do the practice, but felt very weak. I had to modify poses all over the place and couldn't do Chaturanga Dandasana nearly as much as I managed yesterday (I was definitely wimping out near the end). My triceps and deltoids are very, very tight and sore.

I'm really out of shape for this! I couldn't even do Urdhva Dhanurasana - my back was too tight. I managed one handstand and headstand, but skipped many of the more difficult poses. Oh well - baby steps, right?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Day 1

Fantastic! True to the Ashtanga form, my first primary series had me covered in sweat within five minutes and I felt suitably exhausted after. I must say, there's a lot of Chaturanga Dandasana in there. I was really feeling it in my arms and shoulders near the end of the practice.

The BBB DVD wanders out of form for some handstands - perfect for me, since I would have wanted to practise a few handstands daily anyways, to keep up with my Anusara practice.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

99% practice and 1% theory

About this blog:
"99% practice and 1% theory"
- Sri K. Pattabhi Jois of Mysore, India

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois once said: "Practice, and all is coming." This weblog will document my efforts to test and live out this maxim. For one year, starting tomorrow, I'm going to practice the Primary Series of Ashtanga yoga every day to the best of my ability.

I realise there will be days when I simply can't practice. On those days, I'll take a break or do a shorter Hatha practice. My experiment will be complete when I've practiced 365 times. With the odd day off, this will take me a little over a year.

I'll document my experience here: my experience of the practice, the ins-and-outs of a rigourous daily routine, and how it effects my yoga practice overall.

A bit about me:
I'm not new to yoga - I've been practising for over ten years and I'm a full-time Hatha Yoga teacher. Over the years, I've tried many styles of yoga, including Ashtanga, but it's never been my favourite. My own practice is primarily Anusara and I teach Classical Hatha Yoga to my students (with a bit of an Anusara flair derived from my own practice).

Here's the back story:
One night, while teaching my evening classes, I had a sudden inspiration. Ever since going to my teacher H's class the week before, I'd found myself keen for a sweaty, challenging, vinyasa practice. I never seem to be able to accomplish a vigourous practice at home, on my own. I simply get lazy and don't work very hard.

As my students floated along in Savasana, I brainstormed and wondered if I could find a simple, basic, Ashtanga primary series DVD to practice with. There is - and from a source I never expected.

A few years ago I briefly taught a 'power yoga' style class at a gym and I read the book 'Power Yoga' by Beryl Bender Birch to plan my sequences.

Turns out, BBB has a 'Power Yoga' DVD which presents the Ashtanga Primary Series in it's entirety (with a few other poses thrown in for good measure). The reader reviews were mixed, but from those people who are familiar with the Ashtanga practice, the reviews were *fantastic*. The only negative reviews complained that this DVD was 'too hard' (”Perfect!” I thought).

There was only one copy of this DVD available in my city and as of 9 a.m. the next morning, I owned it. I will use this DVD to guide my home practice.